Secretary of State John Kerry may have unintentionally helped a blacklisted individual in Myanmar just by checking into a hotel there last week.
The Lake Garden hotel, assigned to the US delegation when they stayed in the country last week for the ASEAN ministerial meeting, is owned by Zaw Zaw, a man whose company and personal accounts are subject to US financial sanctions over his connections with Myanmar's former military regime. Kerry was traveling with five senior officials, and likely more staff as well, bringing the group's minimum possible overnight expenses, for six of the hotel's cheapest rooms, to just under $800, some of which may have ended up being pocketed by the blacklisted tycoon himself.
State Department spokesperson Marie Harf noted Tuesday that there are exemptions for activities related to travel, so that the US delegation could legally pay to stay at the hotel, but not do business with it. "The funny thing about the way the law is written is there are things you can and can't do, and everything we did is completely legal," Harf said during Tuesday's briefing. Plus, there are undoubtedly many tycoons in the country who remain mired in corruption - but there are a few who have at least managed to stay off the US list of Specially Designated Nationals.
So in case the US government wants to avoid questions about the propriety of frequenting a hotel owned by a blacklisted hotel magnate in Myanmar - even if it is completely legal - here are some suggestions for the future:
1. The Royal Naypyitaw Hotel Nestled on the Kyuntharya island, the hotel is "inspired by the impressive ancient Myanmar's 2 nddynasty style of the King Bayinnaung era," according to its website. It's just a ten minute car ride from the Myanmar International Convention Center, where many of the ASEAN meetings took place. And its owner, U Khin Maung Aye, is the chairman of Cooperative Bank Limited and is not subject to US sanctions.
2. The Park Royal Naypyitaw "Your connection to a world of unique experiences," the hotel's website beckons. "For a more immersive getaway, venture outwards to discover the beautiful juxtaposition of ancient temples, delicious street food, bustling traditional markets and contemporary malls in Asia's up and coming hotspot," it continues. Plus, it's owned by a Singaporean property management company, UOL which, along with its hotel subsidiary Pan Pacific Hotels Group Limited, is not blacklisted by the United States.
3. Emerald Palace This hotel has rooms to suit "business travelers, honeymooners and general leisure guests, all of whom can sample the cultural delights of the surrounding area." Or, for those wishing to stay closer to home, there are a variety of culinary offerings at the "elegant bar and restaurant." It's also managed by the Myanmar Seilone Group, owned by Khun Myat Lahtaw, a businessman who is not subject to any US financial restrictions.
4. Junction Hotel Since 2010, Junction's 11 acres have offered "a serene place for vacationers and a quiet corner for entrepreneurs to rest after a stressful day." Also stress-free might be the fact that none of the leadership of the hotel's holding company, Shwe Taung Group, is on the US Treasury's Specially Designated Nationals list.